The news item that landed on my desk one day in mid-November 1960 -- brought by our monitoring service -- that the Congolese government had declared the Ghana charge d’affaires in Leopoldville, Mr Nathaniel Azarko Welbeck, persona non grata, was dynamite.
For Dr Kwame Nkrumah had maintained good relations with both “strong men” in the Congolese government, President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba -- the two men to whose parties, Kasavubu’s ABAKO and Lumumba’s Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), had formed a coalition that was ruling the Congo.
But Kasavubu was being paid by the Belgians and the Americans to undermine the authority of Lumumba. We could see this from Accra, but Ghana's effort was to try and get Lumumba to be patient with Kasavubu and keep the coalition going, as things would descend into mayhem if the coalition disintegrated.
But the forces ranged against Lumumba were too much to handle, and in the end, Kasavubu, as ordered by the Belgians, declared on 5 September 1960 that he, as President, had used powers given him under the Congolese constitution (Loi Fondamentale) to sack Lumumba.
In retaliation, Lumumba also sacked Kasavubu. He took the precaution of immediately asking the Congolese Senate to give him a vote of confidence over what he had done, and later also got his action endorsed by the lower house of the Congolese parliament. Meanwhile, the newspapers of the world, unimpressed by who had acted legally and who had not, had a field day running this mocking headline: “Kasavubu sacks Lumumba. Lumumba sacks Kasavubu.”
Lumumba's speech asking the Congolese parliament to dismiss Kasavubu was one of the most eloquent he ever made.It was also, probably, the last one he made that was fully recorded. Our monitoring station caught it clearly and I ran the transcript of it almost in full in our news bulletins.
Patrice Lumumba said: “We made Kasavubu what he is. As you well know, he has no majority in this parliament.Yet, out of our desire for national unify, yet we had the generosity to offer him the highest office in the land -- the presidency. We made that sacrifice so that we could achieve the unity without which we cannot build our new nation. And now he turns around to say he has sacked, me, the leader of the majority, by whose hand he was appointed President.
How can a person who only commands a minority of votes in this House sack the one who has the majority?” Under the torrent of Lumumba;s piercing logic, the two houses of parliament each gave him a vote of confidence, though numerous attempts were made by the Belgians to use money to sway the vote in favour of Kasavubu, and against Lumumba.
As far as Radio Ghana was concerned, the amazing work done by our monitoring service enable us to capture Lumumba’s speech direct from Leopoldville and the outside world heard his point of view from our airwaves -- in both English and French. I was so proud of myself that I was able to do this for Lumumba, as editor on duty. Nkrumah himself could not have put the Lumumba case better for him.
But it was a lost cause. In the midst of the confusion following the mutual sackings, Sergeant Joseph-Desire Mobutu, a CIA agent of long-standing who had been planted in Lumumba's office after the Belgian secret service had taken him over from the CIA, and had been passing top-secret information to both clandestine services, had been primed by his bosses and was waiting in the wings to take advantage of any confusion.
They told him to strike, and he mounted a coup d'état and placed Lumumba under house arrest. Then, working together under American and Belgian guidance, Kasavubu and Mobutu, created as much political confusion as possible, appointing their stooges to important posts here, there and everywhere.
It was then that the Belgians and their American allies told Mobutu to declare the Ghana charge d'affaires, Mr Nathaniel Azarko Welbeck (who had replaced Ghana’s first ambassador, Mr A Y K Djin, but was still a charge because the agrement accepting him as ambassador had not yet been signed by Kasavubu) persona non grata.
The reason why the Kasavubu-Mobutu alliance didn’t want Welbeck in Leopoldville was that Welbeck spoke fluent French, and also had loads of money at his disposal, as well as free booze.
As Nkrumah's principal Propaganda Secretary during the CPP's struggle for independence, he was full of anti-colonial rhetoric, with which to dazzle the Congolese politicians and soldiers, as he fraternised with them. He passed on to them, plenty of sagacious political advice from President Kwame Nkrumah, which he elaborated with his own not inconsiderable Welbeckian flourish.
All of it was secretly reported to Mobutu and Kasavubu, of course, and they saw him as a dangerous stumbling block to their ambitions. So they decided to expel him.
In a book published in 2001, The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, (Verso, ISBN: 1850846181) the Belgian writer, Ludo De Witte, gives chapter and course of the true nature of the opposition that Welbeck faced from the Belgians and the Americans.
“Belgian military chiefs”, DeWitte wrote, “made nightly visits to Mobutu and President Kasavubu to plot Lumumba's downfall.” A Belgian officer, Colonel Louis Maliere, “spoke [to De Witte] of the millions of francs he brought over [from Belgium] for this purpose,” De Witt further reported. The plot to kill Lumumba was called ‘Operation Barracuda’ and was run by the Belgian Minister for African Affairs, Count d'Aspremont, himself.
(The CIA had earlier brought in an assassin, known only as "Joe from Paris", to kill Lumumba with a poisonous toothpaste, but the CIA station director in Leopoldville, a guy called Larry Devlin, claims he didn't like the idea and threw the tube of toothpaste into the Congo river! http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/jan2001/lum-j10.shtml
Anyway, the Belgians finished off the job the Americans wanted done, with their "Operation Barracuda".
I didn’t know any of this at the time, of course, when I got the report that Mr Welbeck had been declared persona non grata. But my journalistic instincts told me that this was big trouble for Ghana; it was news of the greatest significance. If it was true, it meant that the balance of power had shifted ominously against Lumumba, and that all Ghana had been working for -- sending troops to serve in the Congo under the mandate of the United Nations; providing bilateral assistance to the legitimate Congolese Government under Lumumba by way of supplying technical personnel of all types -- all this had been in vain. It would be a major setback to the Ghana Government, I realised.
So what I decided, knowing as I did that communications between Ghana and the Congo were never too good, was to send the news item to Flagstaff House, the office of the President, but not to use it on the radio and cause alarm.
So I called the President's office and said to an official, “I am calling from the news desk of Radio Ghana. My name is Cameron Duodu, and I am the editor on duty. Our monitoring service has recorded some important news about the Congo from Leopoldville Radio, which I think will interest you.” The man thanked me and said he would come and collect it.
Within a short while, someone came from Flagstaff House to collect the transcript. The man was one of Nkrumah’s top aides, Mr T K Impraim. I did nor know him then.
I was busy continuing with my work when the Mr Impraim came back and said to me, “The President wants to see you!”
My heart jumped through the roof of my mouth! The President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, wanted to see me? Boy. This was big trouble oh! He didn't want to see the Head of News, or the Director of Broadcasting or the Minister of Information -- he had jumped right over the chain of command in our establishment and wanted to see me!
Gee! I quickly dropped what I was doing and followed Mr Impraim into his car, shaking on the inside but endeavouring to keep calm on the outside.
We drove to Flagstaff House. When we got there, Mr Impraim left me in an ante-room and disappeared to inform the President that I had come. As I sat there, I momentarily caught sight of the President furtively peering at me from behind a hole they had cut in the panel between his desk and the anteroom, and which could be opened and closed noiselessly. I put on as innocent an expression on my face as I could and pretended that I had seen nothing. I showed no sign of nervousness whatsovdre, though I was boiling with unease on the inside.
Not long after I had sat down, Kodwo Addison, our News and Current Affairs Executive -- or glorified censor, as we regarded him -- made a hurried entrance.This calmed me slightly, because I knew he liked me. Anyway, there was no chance for us to talk as he was called in immediately to see the President. I heard them whispering for a bit.
Then I was called in.
"Good afternoon, Sir!" I greeted the President.
The President did not return the greeting.
He did not smile.
He indicated a seat and I sat down/ It wasn;t placed as close as Addison's was.
The President held up the piece of paper: “Why did you send this news to this office?” he asked.
I said, clearly and without hesitation: “It’s because it came direct from Leopoldville, Sir. No such news item had come on Reuters or AFP, or the BBC, our normal sources, So I thought that maybe your office too had not got it either, and since it is about the Ghana ambassador, I thought maybe the ambassador would be having some sort of trouble, which the news agencies hadn't got hold of , didn't yet.
I thought that maybe the ambassador is himself having trouble contacting you to report what is happening to you. So I thought I should send the news direct to your office, Sir, to alert you, Sir, so that if you thought it necessary, you could make enquiries about the safety of the Ambassador, Sir. Knowing how chaotic the situation in the Congo is, Sir....”
The President's face looked somewhat calmer, after my answer. He turned to Addison and began to speak to him in Nzima!
Now, I had no idea that Addison could speak Nzima! I knew he spoke Fanti, but this Nzima thing took me completely by surprise. I sat quietly while they discussed letters that Welbeck had sent to the President, which he showed to Addison. I got the impression that the President was shocked at the turn of events because Welbeck had been sending him glowing reports that everything was "going to plan" for him in the Congo.
The President could therefore not, or did not want, to believe what was happening, as indicated by the radio report I had given him, and wished to reassure himself by discussing the matter with Addison. But all Addison, did, of course, was to nod his head and agree with everything the President said.
Finally, the the President turned to me and said, “It may have been a broadcast from the other side of the river.”
The “other side of the river” was Brazzaville, and it did have a very powerful broadcasting station, Radio Brazzaville, which was used a lot by Kasavubu and his allies to broadcast propaganda against Lumumba, because of the close ties with the French authorities, who were the allies of the Belgians.
The President said to me: “Don’t send such news here again. This is not a news agency.”
I got annoyed on hearing this, but I held myself together. “Yes, Sir”, I said in a very formal tone. “I am very sorry, Sir. I only sent it because it came from Leopoldville direct, Sir.”
He cut me short with a wave of his hand. Addison indicated that I should wait in the ante-room for him.
He soon came out and we drove together to Broadcasting House.
I felt abashed, but Kodwo Addison didn’t reproach me, as I feared he might, because he could reasonably have felt embarrassed that I had contacted the President’s Office direct, when he was the contact man placed in the newsroom to liaise between us and the Government. But, of course, the news was just too hot to wait till he came to the office -- at least in my view.
But there was no doubt in my mind that I had acted with youthful over-enthusiasm. I was a newsman. What business was it of mine to be sending information to my rulers, when they hadn't asked me to?
And yet -- and yet hadn't we all been so fired by what was going on in the Congo; the injustice being done to Lumumba by the United Nations which he had himself invited into the Congo' Nkrumah's own statements on the subject, which we were constantly broadcasting? I had felt emotionally involved with the Congo situation and could not have put such important news on the spike and forgotten all about it. Suppose something happened to Welbeck, when we had troops in the Congo, who could possibly have protected him?
As I was fuming about all this, I expected my misery to worsened by Addison too chiding me for over-reaching myself. But Addison surprised me by -- putting his hand in his pocket and giving me some money!
I was amazed.
I didn’t know whether it was his own money, or money the President had given to him to give me! For he didn’t say anything at all, as he gave me the money.
I was puzzled a lot about why he gave the money to me. Was it because I had proved to the President that we, Addison’s “wards” at Broadcasting House, were very much ‘aware’ when it came to African affairs, and knew what to broadcast and what to send to him direct? And was Addison rewarding me for showing the President what a good job he was doing, making us at Broadcasting House politically-conscious?
Or was it from the President, who had been caught off-guard by the news I had sent to him, but didn’t want me to know that his office could be caught off-guard? Had he pretended to be upset by what I had done, while nevertheless appreciating the initiative I had shown in sending such a sensitive bit of news to his office? And -- was it that he didn’t want me to know that he was pleased, in case I became swollen-headed, and so he’d given the money to Addison to give to me, but not to reveal that it was from him?
I must admit that although I was very puzzled, such thoughts didn’t occupy my mind for too long. What with having my siblings’ school fees to worry about, the money was very welcome -- whatever it was that it had been given to me for!
As for the President statement that his office was not a ”news agency”, it was a rather crass and inane comment,I thought. Surely he must have known that I knew his office was not a “news agency”?
As a Ga speaker would have said (I told myself irreverently) "eha 'ngbe ye dzeer!" ("he could go and jump!").